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Vol. LXI, No. 8
April 17, 2009

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  Scientists have found that the activity of more than 600 genes in the pineal gland is synchronized in some way with the 24-hour sleep and wake cycle.  
  Scientists have found that the activity of more than 600 genes in the pineal gland is synchronized in some way with the 24-hour sleep and wake cycle.  

Gene Scan Shows Body’s Clock Influences Numerous Physical Functions

The pineal gland—integral to setting the body’s sleep and wake cycles—may be involved in a broad range of bodily functions, according to a study by researchers at NIH and other institutions. Using a technology that scans for the activity of thousands of genes at a time, scientists found the activity of more than 600 genes in the pineal gland is synchronized in some way with the 24-hour sleep and wake cycle. The genes influence such diverse functions as inflammation and immunity. Researchers have traditionally studied the gland in hopes of gaining insight into the health problems of shift workers and people who frequently travel between time zones. The pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin, which regulates the cycle of sleep and waking. The study appeared in the Mar. 20 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Autism Skews Developing Brain with Synchronous Motion and Sound

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to stare at people’s mouths rather than their eyes. Now, an NIH-funded study in 2-year-olds with the social deficit disorder suggests why they might find mouths so attractive: lip-sync—the exact match of lip motion and speech sound. Such audiovisual synchrony preoccupied toddlers who have autism, while their unaffected peers focused on socially meaningful movements of the human body, such as gestures and facial expressions. “Typically developing children pay special attention to human movement from very early in life, within days of being born. But in children with autism, even as old as 2 years, we saw no evidence of this,” explained Dr. Ami Klin of the Yale Child Study Center, who led the research. “Toddlers with autism are missing rich social information imparted by these cues, and this is likely to adversely affect the course of their development.” The study, funded in part by NIMH appeared online Mar. 29 in the journal Nature. According to NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel, this study has pinpointed for the first time what grabs the attention of toddlers with ASDs. “In addition to potential uses in screening for early diagnosis,” he said, “this line of research holds promise for development of new therapies based on redirecting visual attention in children with these disorders.”

Skin Cancer Study Uncovers New Tumor Suppressor Gene

NIH researchers have identified a gene that suppresses tumor growth in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The finding was reported Mar. 29 in the journal Nature Genetics as part of a systematic genetic analysis of a group of enzymes implicated in skin cancer and many other types of cancer. The study’s senior author is Dr. Yardena Samuels of NHGRI. The NIH analysis found that one-quarter of human melanoma tumors had changes, or mutations, in genes that code for matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes. The findings lay the foundation for more individualized cancer treatment strategies where MMP and other key enzymes play a functional role in tumor growth and spread of the disease.

Surgery to Reshape Ventricle in Heart Failure Patients Offers No Added Benefit over Bypass

A type of surgery that reshapes the scarred left ventricle—the main pumping chamber of the heart—and is often done in conjunction with heart bypass, not only failed to reduce deaths and hospitalizations in heart failure patients but also did not improve patients’ quality of life compared to bypass alone after 4 years of follow- up, according to the results of a large international clinical trial funded by NHLBI. The results from the Surgical Treatment for Ischemic Heart Failure Trial (STICH) were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 58th annual scientific session in Orlando. The main mortality findings were also published online Mar. 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine and will appear in the Apr. 23 print issue; findings from a substudy of STICH on quality of life were published online on Mar. 30 in the American Heart Journal. —

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